Zombie attacks are relatively sparse (but fun; get ready for Daryl to trade his crossbow for a suitably medieval flail he can twirl around and swing into walker’s noggins), leaving room for Reedus to channel the wry stoicism he’s spent more than a decade cultivating in a whole new setting. Imagine “An American in Paris” if Gene Kelly had to can-can kick drooling demons across the face. (Take a drink every time Daryl has to play the “parlez-vous anglais” game with a new French character he meets along his journeys.) Throwing a guy like him in the middle of a holy crusade in the middle of Europe, Daryl cuts the figure of a dirtbag Grail Knight, a reformed redneck stumbling his way through France’s anxiety mystique. Brave, brave, brave Sir Duck Dynasty.
Other characters treat him with that same mythic importance; the nuns believe it was his destiny to arrive at their doorstep, and his fighting prowess put him in the crosshairs of many an awed foe. It’s a nifty way to weave the character’s fan-favorite status into the show’s fabric, even in such a new environment.
What puts this show above “Dead City,” apart from Daryl being more interesting than Maggie and Negan, is the supporting cast. Poésy’s Isabelle makes for a formidable friend, ally, and potential love interest; like Daryl, she was reinvented by the plague, arguably made better and more noble. It’s a lovely throughline for both of them, and Reedus and Poésy are magnetic together. Keep your eyes peeled for major French actors in small but wonderful parts (like Jean-Pierre Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon as a charming Parisian pigeon messenger).
The major weak spot is Laurent himself, mostly because he’s one of the most egregious examples of the ‘kid in peril’ tropes these stories traffic in—he’s wise beyond his years but also makes one dumb decision after another that gets his caretakers in more trouble than they deserve. If he’s the savior of mankind, we’re in trouble, folks.
Annoying kid MacGuffin aside, the “Walking Dead”-ification of France puts an exceedingly novel twist on the show’s universe. The opening titles evoke Renaissance paintings; we see an Eiffel Tower whose tip was shorn off in the apocalypse’s opening days; Normandy’s beaches take on both personal and thematic significance for Daryl and his quest by season’s end. Familiar zombie-fight trappings (like the oft-repeated zombie arena) get some welcome spice thanks to genetic experimentations, super-strong zombies, and walkers whose touch burns their victims.